As we head into the holiday season, some new albums inevitably get lost among the mistletoe and tinsel. That’s why we wanted to call attention to a little gem: Anthony Hamilton’s “Back To Love.”

The R&B singer’s latest studio album came out yesterday (Dec. 13), but we just got around to listening to it today and it is a smooth, sexy blast of fresh air. The former D’Angelo back-up singer, has been one of the finest purveyors of the neo-soul sound over the course of his last several albums, but on “Back To Love,” he stretches his wings to successfully blend a more contemporary feel to the material without ever sacrificing the emotion.

[More after the jump...]

There’s also a new-found confidence that perhaps came from turning 40 or, more likely, from spending a record-tying 18-weeks atop Billboard’s Adult R&B chart with “So in Love,” his duet with Jill Scott.

Hamilton worked with a raft of producers on the project, including Babyface, who produced first single, the top 10 hit, “Woo,” as well as Salaam Remi, Mike City,  Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis, and newcomer Jairus Mozee. Guests include Keri Hilson on “Never Let Go.”  It's his first album since 2008's "The Point Of It All," which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart.

While tracks like “Mad” deliciously recall Bill Withers, there’s also the more current sounding, bouncy, infectious “Sucka For You,” which Hamilton has said was influenced by OutKast. The song is a revelation for Hamilton, who sings in a clearly, upper register on the winner.  Like the best of the rest of the current retro-soul singers, Hamilton has a very fine-tuned appreciation for the female form that expresses itself in a sensual, sultry, masculine way without ever resorting to name checking specific body parts.

On a whole, this is a more upbeat Hamilton than we’ve heard in the past and the lighter mood suits him well.  On the breezy “Best Of Me,” he immerses himself into a new relationship and the all-consuming feeling that can entail. As he sings, “You smile and I smile.”  “Back to Love” is sure to leave you with that smile on your face too.

Not than any artist should weigh an album’s success by such things, but it’s a shame that most critics complete their Top 10 lists in early December (us included). Otherwise, we’re quite sure that “Back To Love” would have found its way on quite a few Best Of 2011 tallies.

 Check out the video for "Woo" below.